When we look back to the past and look ahead to the future I see three things that every communicator should do in order to be successful.
The 3 things are:
1) Be strategic
2) Be opportunistic
3) Be Persistent
When communicators ask for advice, I often tell them to know the difference between your job and your purpose. Why is this important? Because everything you do in your job each day should lead you in the direction of your strategic purpose. If it doesn’t lead to your strategic purpose, then you shouldn’t be doing it.
One of the best corporate communications departments I have ever seen was at Best Buy. For a short time I stepped in as a Vice President and got to see the machine at work. Each year the team built its strategic communications plans around the company’s strategies for customer service, employee relations, and corporate growth. Hence, all communications were built toward those goals.
Inevitably, during the year, people would rush in asking us to crank out a news release for something they thought was special. My sarcastic reply was, “ask them if they want a burger, fries and large drink with that news release.” In other words, we were not order takers, cranking out releases on demand. We were strategists who helped achieve corporate goals through communications. We were not publicists. We had a plan and we were sticking to it.
#1 is to be strategic. Your job is not to take orders to write news releases. Your job is to know your strategic purpose and communicate toward that purpose.
#2 is to be opportunistic. Every year communicators want advice on “how to get a seat at the corporate table.” The answer is to always be opportunistic. So when something big happens in the news, that is the time to contact your leaders and ask for a meeting to discuss how a crisis might affect your company and what strategic communications tools need to be in place.
In January I wrote an article about a survey I conducted with IABC following the BP Oil Spill in 2010. It shows just how un-opportunistic communicators are.
For example, there was no better opportunity to get the time or money to write your crisis communications plan or to run your executives through media training, or to conduct a crisis drill, than during and after the BP oil spill. Yet, as you’ll see in the survey, most communicators missed the chance to be opportunistic and get a seat at the table to review long term crisis strategies, strategies that should be part of your annual communications plan.
Most people fail to realize that the crisis communications plan you wrote last year is obsolete or out of date if you don’t update it this year. And your spokespeople will perform as poorly as Tony Hayward if they don’t strategically set aside time in their schedule for media training, at least once a year.
Many communicators think some day they will be magically invited to take a seat at the corporate table. Don’t hold your breath. The only way to get a seat at the table is to be opportunistic and take it. Take the opportunity to show your leaders you are looking out for them. Take the opportunity to let them see your face, hear your thoughts and realize you are a strategic thinker and not just an order taker.
#3 is to be persistent. Because of the recession, many people have had their budgets cut. But just because you are told “no” at the beginning of your calendar year or at the beginning of your budget year, doesn’t mean you can’t go back and ask for funds again later in the year, provided you have a good reason.
For example, if you are told at the beginning of your year that you can’t have funds for media training or a crisis communications plan or drill, go back and ask again while a big crisis is in the news. You see… this ties back to being strategic… and being opportunistic. Wise communicators who do this tell me their bosses almost always free up special funds for special training. Likewise, many CEOs have told me “no” doesn’t mean “no” forever. It only means “no” for right now, under the current conditions with the current reasons.